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Billie Starr's Book of Sorries


Billie Starr's Book of Sorries

From Edgar Award nominee Deborah E. Kennedy comes BILLIE STARR’S BOOK OF SORRIES, a suspense novel set in the small town of Benson, Indiana, where everyone knows everyone and rumors, judgment and secrets serve as currency.

For as long as she can remember, Jenny Newberg has been known for her beauty: it’s the kind that men not only admire but also comment on, expressing ownership of her looks and her power to use them as easily as they discuss the weather. With her heart-shaped face, cornflower blue eyes, womanly hips and small waist, all Jenny knows is that she has to be careful with how she moves through the world: the wrong move can be read as seduction or entrapment, and the right one can be seen as prostitution. As the unwed mother of a precocious little girl named Billie Starr who is living in a dead-end town, Jenny knows that she has to set a good example. She just can never seem to catch a break.

Jenny’s most recent upheaval comes when she is fired from the job she has held successfully for three years. Her boss corners her and tries to shove his hands up her skirt. She knows no one will believe her, and she doesn’t have time to launch a criminal investigation --- not when the bills are piling up, the collectors are calling and her mortgage is three months past due.

"...a tense, exquisite suspense story that is grounded and supported by its heartfelt, deeply affecting characters."

Desperate, beautiful and inexperienced, Jenny sees an opening when she is approached by two men in black suits. They tell her that she’s perfect for the job they need done. A local politician, referred to only as the Candidate, is dangerous for their state and country, and they need Jenny to doll herself up, seduce him and catch him saying foolish things on wire. It sounds (and feels) like prostitution, but with no other choice, she completes the job, only to be left hanging when the men never come back to pick up their recorder or give her the giant paycheck they promised. Jenny once again has been left in the lurch.

But if there was a silver lining to her encounter with the Candidate, it’s that he was actually sort of nice: gentle, even funny, and when he shows up at her home later that evening, he quickly endears himself to her daughter and fixes their broken radiator. Billie Starr has longed for her mother to take her father back and stop saying “sorry.” While the Candidate isn’t exactly her real dad, he’s at least kind and interesting and listens to her talk about her white guilt, promising to find a solution. At the end of his visit, he offers Jenny a job in his office, and it appears that her life really will change thanks to her handling of her assignment. It does…but not for the better.

Billie Starr --- bright, imaginative and downright hilarious --- was once the highlight of Jenny's days, but now she begins to dedicate herself more and more to the Candidate and his campaign, relying on friends and family to watch her daughter. But with her self-esteem finally building and her reliance on the word “sorry” dwindling, she fails to notice that the timing seems all too perfect. Until Billie Starr goes missing after a school field trip. Not only does Jenny have to find her daughter, she must unpack the mystery behind her assigned seduction and the Candidate’s interest in her, while figuring out how to find herself in the process.

While Jenny can be whiny and annoying at first, her true desire to finally do the right thing endeared her to me from the start, and her feelings of being watched and judged in her small town will appeal to any “stranger in a strange land” reader. But the true heart of the book, naturally, is Billie Starr. She leaps off the page from the moment she says, “I’m not a sweetie or a pumpkin or a honey. I’m an airplane,” demanding to be referred to and treated as such. Billie Starr dresses herself in bright colors, mismatched patterns and unseasonal footwear, but she is entirely herself. She creates a beautiful foil to her apologetic mother.

Kennedy’s cultivating of Benson and its inhabitants round out the cast and balance its more whimsical moments with dark stories of addiction, poverty, racism and corruption. Combined with the mystery of the Candidate, these elements elevate the novel and make it a tense, exquisite suspense story that is grounded and supported by its heartfelt, deeply affecting characters. While there are some convoluted, unbelievable twists and connections here, they are easily ignored and forgotten thanks to the strength of Kennedy’s understanding of and compassion for her characters, the town and the power of a mother’s love.

Surprisingly fun and memorable, BILLIE STARR’S BOOK OF SORRIES is a compelling, if at times uneven, mystery and a truly unforgettable family saga.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on October 14, 2022

Billie Starr's Book of Sorries
by Deborah E. Kennedy

  • Publication Date: October 3, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250138450
  • ISBN-13: 9781250138453